Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 2002)

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Adaptation, directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie (and Donald) Kaufman (2002).

Score: meta-rrific!

Adaptation is what happened when Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) was asked to adapt Susan Orlean’s (Meryl Streep) The orchid thief, a non-fiction book about Floridan horticulturist and orchid poacher John Laroche (Chris Cooper). Because Hollywood will try to siphon money from anywhere. Kaufman found himself unable to adapt the work into a fiction movie so he ended up handing in a screenplay about himself failing miserably at adapting The orchid thief and hoped for the best.

Charlie lives with his (fictional) twin brother Donald (also Nicolas Cage) who decides he also wants to be a screenwriter. But Donald’s interests are more prosaic than Charlie’s: Donald has attended a three-day, five hundred-dollar creative writing course and is determined to write a thriller where the cop, the killer and the victim are the same person with split personalities (and the killer’s modus operandi is feeding his victims morsels of themselves, as suggested by Charlie). Charlie is overly irritated by his brother’s enthusiasm and obliviousness as Charlie struggles with his deadline as well as self-consciousness and social anxiety. Charlie wants to make something unique, faithful to the spirit of Orlean’s work and above all, avoid clichés and shorcuts.

The action is further advanced by inserting scenes between Susan Orlean and John Laroche (also primitive protozoa, lunged fish and apes in an evolution of live beings time lapse) that come from Charlie’s failed drafts. Kaufman wrestles with writing something that he feels is true and good quality, while Donald symbolizes his writing persona that wonders whether he would be better off sticking to a formula he hates. Some of his creative writing musings are hilarious and a highlight of the film (”Maybe you guys could collaborate. I hear mom’s really good with structure.”)

This movie can also be enjoyed innocently and obliviously, I know because I watched it back in ‘04 or so and didn’t understand a single thing but still liked it. I remember I liked the ending because it finally tapped into some tropes I was familiar with. ***SPOILERS*** When we enter the last third of the movie and Charlie finally decides to embrace his inner cheesy writer, I am admired at how many of the things he didn’t want to do he actually does. The voice-over is gone, a sexual relationship between Orlean and Laroche is introduced, suddenly a drug is extracted from the ghost orchid, Charlie and Donald decide to have an intimate conversation while Laroche is trying to kill them, Amelia (Cara Seymour) confesses her love to Charlie in a blood-curdling closing scene and I’m convinced the car accident counts as a deus ex machina.***END SPOILERS***

Seeing Nicolas Cage’s face onscreen made me want to stop the movie and play something else but he manages to make you forget all his horrible acting and does a decent work. Technical aspects look more than correct to me.

A fun and intelligent little movie, more than recommended if you have enjoyed other works by Jonze and/or Kaufman.

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